The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Escaping the Matrix

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest
distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the
truth then hold no opinion for or against.
struggle of what one likes and what one dislikes is the disease of the mind.

--Hsin Hsin Ming, The Book Of Nothing

I often hear people say: “I don’t see race” as if this is a positive thing. To me, this is like saying “I don’t see ice on the road.”

What they MEAN, of course, is that they don’t judge people by their skin color.  But then, we know that the average person does indeed have a flinch response for the “Other,” and that it operates whether you are aware of it or not.

It is for this reason that we should be mindful, understanding that human consciousness tends toward the hierarchical, and that we believe that whatever group we identify with is “better.”  That’s just the way we are.

Am I racist?  To the degree that that means: Do I notice race?  Then, sure.  Do I dislike white people?  Not consciously, although I have flinch responses to certain things in media and personal interaction.  Let me say it this way:

White folks out there: I know more white people than you know black people.  My first wife was white.  Over the course of my life, most of my friends, students, teachers, and business associates have been white.  I’ve written hundreds of white characters, and read thousands of books with white characters.  And I know I still have to be very, very conscious.

Why?  Look at  that first quote: “no preference”?  Damn, we’re wired to have preferences!  Do you have any idea how hard it is to escape that?  I can Waltz through the world saying “I don’t see race, or gender, or sexual orientation…” but AT BEST that means that I am blind to the prejudice of others.  If I don’t notice these things, how can I notice when others are abused because of them?
Why is this all important?  Why should white people, who hold more of the cards, voluntarily “wake up” to the stacked deck?  Why should black people, who have genuine historical grievances, hold only love in their hearts, and concentrate on the positive future, rather than the past?  I ask these questions because, if there is no gain from giving up the “power positions” of self-righteousness (“hell, I never owned a slave!  I’m not a bigot!  Why are you talking to me?”) or reverse racism (“whites are hypocritical, bigoted, hyper-aggressive  cultural liars with delusions of Godhood”) then people won’t give them up.  Why should they?
If you’re black, if you try to be “color blind” you will get certain sets of positive results—you will interact with the world as if you have a right to be here, and some of the “flinch response” from whites diminishes.  You  are exactly the kind of black person they generally want to deal with.  But you know?  I’ve never met anyone who could genuinely hold that position indefinitely.  How many Rodney King videotapes, Paul Winfield sacrifices, Halle Berry interracial sex-fests, UPN coon comedies, Katrina disasters, Colin Powell humiliations, Morgan Freeman’s neutered spiritual guides, Martin Lawrence cross-dressers, Martin Luther King assassinations, “George Jefferson married to an obese black woman while his white neighbor gets the slender gorgeous one” events can you watch before you get the lingering sense that something is terribly, terribly wrong?

And once you have that feeling, let me tell you what the average human being does: they blame the “Other” (white people are evil!) or they blame themselves (“my own people are sub-standard.”)  And it is so incredibly easy to fall one way or the other.  So hard to take the middle path.
The underlying mythos of the Matrix is simply this: “you are asleep, dreaming that you are awake.  The demons of hell feast on your soul as you do, commit evil in your name, rob you of your strength and potential.  Wake Up!  It is hard, terribly hard and frightening to awaken, but if you do, you will have power beyond your dreams.”
This philosophical position can be found in gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Native American and African Shamanism…everywhere.  Because, in my view, this is the simple truth.

If you aren’t aware that your body will fight to remain at your current weight, you  will be surprised, and ashamed, when you break “diet” discipline and backslide.  If you aren’t aware that your family and social dynamic will fight to keep you who and what they think you are, you will be taken by surprise when you get negative reactions to your change.  If you aren’t aware of your natural tendency to prefer “your own group” you’ll be taken aback when someone points out the ways “the other group” is demonized or excluded to your benefit.

Take the blue pill, they whisper.  Eat the steak.  Forget about the oppression done in your name.  Or conversely, blame “the other” for all that is wrong in the world, and fail to understand universal human frailty and fear.  And as you point the finger, or slumber in sweet obliviousness, the demons continue to feed.

All that is necessary for the demons to win, is for you to slumber on. So what do you get? 
The key to Art is to return to the core creative energy within you, the white light.  This requires the ability to move back and forth between exquisite differentiation, and total non-differentiation, at will.  Most things are defined in terms of other things: either synonyms or antonyms.  “Not that, not that, not that” one must say, every time our conscious mind attempts to use labels, to separate, to block the way to pure experience by offering abstractions and comparisons.

This doesn’t mean not noticing that there are differences between people, or gradations to appropriateness in behavior.  It means being aware of the voices in your head, the demons in your heart, as a way of approaching God.  To stop viewing the world through a prism, as a way to return to pure light.

There is nothing harder than this awakening.  Over the last years and months I have been re-claiming the aspects of myself I was too frightened to access directly.
I accepted on faith that blacks were not inferior, although logic told me there was much evidence that they were.  Frankly, it wasn’t until I read “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that I had a logical view of the world that made total sense of the difference between African and European civilizations.
I took it on faith that whites were not evil, although logic told me there was much evidence that they were.  It wasn’t until I began to study slavery, and began to understand the psychology necessary to control other human beings…and to understand the outcome of the various “prisoner” experiments where students were divided into “guards” and “inmates” that I began to understand, logically, how human hierarchicalism creates hideous effects.
I took it on faith that men were not the cause of evil in the world.  Although, raised by women, I had been given much subtle and indirect encouragement to believe they were.  It wasn’t until I studied anthropology and sociobiology that I began to see that men and women were two sides of the same creature, and that survival trumped all of  the gentler, more spiritual motivations if we were not careful indeed.

So much more, so much more.  Not this.  Not that.  Working my way through all of the muck, searching for the light.  And if I hit a new level, more muck.  Every time I found the light, I could stay there and slowly go to sleep, or keep digging, and hit the muck again.
What I know is that in my greatest moments of calm, and centeredness, and spiritual clarity, I see God.  And when I genuinely feel that presence within me, I can see it in others as well.  Even if they hate me.  Even if they would harm me.  But in that state, there is no “me,” only God, and there is nothing they can do to move me from the light. They can kill my body, but not corrupt my spirit. And frankly, from years of martial arts training, I can tell you in no uncertain words that, in that state, it is a LOT harder for someone to hurt your body, as well.

In that state, I write my best, most successful work.  Sex is better.  Life is brighter.  My energy explodes.  But it takes endless vigilance.  God, sometimes I want to sleep. To stop and rest.  Every single day I wake up and remind myself who I am, to what I am committed.  Every damned day.

Not that.  Not that.  Not that.  I want to stop, but cannot.  If I do, the demons eat my soul.

And then, they will  come for my children.

That will never happen while I have breath.  It ain’t that kind of party.

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